ABORIGINAL leaders have hailed a Federal Court Wild Rivers laws victory as a win over “economic apartheid”.
Cape York crusader Martha Koowarta led the four-year legal battle against the declaration in the state’s Top End.
Federal Court Justice Andrew Greenwood yesterday ruled the controversial Wild Rivers laws “invalid” and a violation of the rights of Cape York’s traditional owners as he awarded costs against the Queensland Government.
Cape York is home to 10,000 Aborigines. In 2009, Wild Rivers laws imposed a ban on development within a kilometre of the banks of the Archer, Stewart and Lockhart rivers. At the time, it was described as a political ploy by the Labor government to secure Greens preferences.
Mrs Koowarta, of Aurukun, said the long-running legal challenge had been a fight against injustice and loss of economic opportun ities for welfare-dependent indigenous people.
“We’re still fighting for our rights,” the Wik Mungkan elder said. “It’s the same story. They stole our voice. But this now is a great victory for our people.”
Cape York Institute leader Noel Pearson said traditional owners should decide their fate without “grubby” political deals in Brisbane being imposed upon them.
“Some of those areas will be open for sensible economic development,” he said.
Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said the State Government would not appeal the decision, would pay costs and repeal the legislation.